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DoD Tests Supply Tracking Technology

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 9, 2004 – In its ongoing effort to improve support to troops in the field, the Defense Department is testing radio-frequency identification technology, Alan Estevez, assistant deputy undersecretary of defense for supply chain integration, said here today.

RFID tags contain microchips that, when scanned, send out a unique identification signal. Tagged items can be added quickly to inventory databases and can even be wirelessly tracked for short distances.

Tags contain license-plate data that says this data equals this item, said Estevez. For a national retail chain using the tags, it might be a box of disposable diapers. "For us, it may be a box of parts for an F-22," he said.

The goal of using RFID is to make life easier for troops, said Estevez. "It will give us better tracking of inventory so we'll know what we have in stock, where it is and where it is in motion. When the troops overseas order supplies, we'll be able to get our hands on the supplies they need and move it to them in the most effective manner."

With RFID, noted Estevez, troops will not have to scan receipt of the item to get it back into the inventory accountability system. RFID will do it automatically.

This tracking system is not new to DoD, he said. The department used a form of RFID to track container shipments during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he said.

Initially, RFID will be used on cases, pallets and individual packaging of items that require a unique identifier, said Estevez. This would include items over $5,000 in value, key components of major weapons platforms and things such as weapons that are tracked by serial numbers daily.

RFID is being used to track distribution of supplies at the Fleet Supply Center in Norfolk, Va. Tests for tracking field rations and chemical-biological suits are slated for February.

Estevez said one of the keys to successfully implementing RFID is the cooperation of suppliers. "We're working with suppliers (so they'll start) tagging the supplies that they send us; likewise, the supplies we maintain in inventory at our Defense Logistics Agency supply depots will be tagged when they move out to sustain our forces."

The department held an industry summit meeting with suppliers in December, and plans to host another in April.

"We're working with suppliers," said Estevez. "As we devise the implementation strategy, (we want to ensure) it works for them, works for us and becomes win- win for the forces in the field."

Estevez said systems such as RFID are important. "The way we fight has changed, as shown by the speed of battle in Iraqi Freedom," he added. "We have to transform our logistics capabilities in order to meet that new way of fighting wars. RFID is a key component of changing logistics capability, of enhancing our ability to supply our forces."

RFID, he continued, "helps us get the supplies to the (troops) in the field when they need them, and makes their job easier when they receive them."

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